It's Love

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December 2017 Christmas Dreams Story Contest Entry

Noel’s “big girl bed” was my old unfinished futon bed from New York. Splashes of food, drinks, and who-knew-what had soaked into the bare wood at its foot, ensuring an oversized throw to cover it.

“Read Daddy!” she excitedly urged without whining or offering anything but love for our time together.

I smiled at my little angel; tucked into thick pillowy covers right to her chin. The children’s Christmas book was almost too young for her four years, but she didn’t know it. She just loved being read to… and me being the one doing it.

It took the colorful book and regarded its cover. It had become a favorite of mine too. Now.

I looked at the small pile of books between us on her covers… between my spot on the edge where I sat.

“I’ll tell you what Sweets. Let’s save this special one for tomorrow. I want to read it too, but the faster you fall asleep… the faster Santa will get here. Okay?”

I smiled to see the wheels turning in her pretty little head, in spite of the thick mess of hair that just couldn’t be tamed.

“Okay,” she finally agreed.

“Are you excited Noel? Do you think Santa will bring you what you asked for?”

Her little nose crinkled in thought.

“I don’t know Daddy,” she answered so innocently.

“Why?”

“I didn’t give Ms. Donna the right envelope the other day.”

“You didn’t? Why not?”

The little crinkle across the bridge of her nose looked so adorable.

“I know you said to run out to her mail truck to give my letter to Santa to her… but I gave her a different one.”

“Really? Weren’t you worried that Santa wouldn’t bring you what you wanted?”

“No,” she said almost matter-of-factly. “If there is a real Santa, his magic will work anyway… right?”

“Of course Sweets.”

There were layers of thought behind her relieved smile.

“The letter I gave Ms. Donna had what I REALLY wanted.”

“And what’s that?” I asked with a smile to mask what I thought about being unable to rush out for the BIG PRESENT that I couldn’t have known about.

“A new Mommy,” she almost whispered.

I kept my smile in silence; unable to speak, which would have started with a hitch.

“Are you okay Daddy?”

After a short moment of silence; I nodded and then patted her tiny shoulder before saying, “That’s not the kind of thing that Santa can bring. Mommy’s and Daddy’s find each other on their own. You know that… right Noel?”

“Oh I know Daddy,” she said with her innocent smile again. “That kind of thing doesn’t come wrapped in pretty paper under the tree. That would be silly!”

Her genuine laugher punctuated her point.

“Are you excited about your birthday too?” I asked to almost deflect the conversation.

“Is Uncle Billy coming over?!”

“He wouldn’t miss it for anything,” I beamed honestly. “But after lunch though. Morning is Christmas, but then tomorrow turns into your birthday after lunch. Remember?”

She smiled like she had the biggest, bestest secret in the world. At her age, it was a wonder to actually share a birthday with God.
I leaned over to give my beautiful living Christmas present a little kiss on her forehead.

“Goodnight Noel, my best present ever.”

“Goodnight Daddy.”

I was half out of Noel’s room, and reaching for the light, when she asked, “Is Santa real?”

I melted inside a little. My hand fell back to my side as I turned to face her. Carol and I had agreed not to lie to Noel. Even if I had changed my mind, which I hadn’t, I couldn’t disrespect her wishes.

I went back to the edge of Noel’s puffy bed and sat down with a smile for my loving daughter.

“Do you remember Mommy Noel?”
“Uh huh.”

“Well we decided that we never would to lie to you. We always said, before she went up to heaven, that we would always tell the truth.”

She nodded as if my words were a given.

Reading was Noel’s ‘thing’. You almost couldn’t read enough to her. From our earliest memories of her trying to gum the pages of the thick-paged board-books in the beginning… to the long chapter books, her desire to be read to was insatiable.

Cat in the Hat quickly moved to Stuart Little, her first chapter book. Those chapters were only a few pages long and had pictures… but we could use those pictures to recap all the chapters up the point where we left off. By the time we reached the last chapter, the early chapters were recapped so often that there wouldn’t be any chance of losing continuity.

Trumpet of the Swan. Charlotte’s Web. She was three when she heard The Hobbit… and learned the difference between make-believe and reality. Carol, God bless her, had said while I kept reading into the Lord of the Rings, “Oh come on Chris! Do you really expect her to keep all those characters and the story in her mind? It’s almost too hard for ME to follow.”

Before I could answer, Noel had said, “It’s not too hard Mommy,” before she recounted exactly what had happened in the pages we had read... and predicted what was coming next.

When the next two paragraphs confirmed her prediction perfectly, Carol bit her tongue while we continued reading. The Narnia Chronicles and very first book of the Harry Potter series (all that had come out) had been finished… all by her birthday-eve.

I will admit that Noel and I might have latched onto our frequent lengthy readings a little more tightly after Carol died… but it was our way of carrying on. People found it hard to believe the volume and nature of our readings… until they spoke with her.

“Why are you even asking?” I tried to deflect as we had been able to do until then.

“I just want to know. Is he… you know… real?”

I looked my daughter in her eyes, which looked so much like Carol’s, and answered, “Yes. Santa is real.”

“But what about…?”

“Years ago, before cars, and planes, and cartoons, and the kind of heat we have in our house; there was a very good man named Nicholas. There was no electricity or driers. People heated their homes by a fireplace… and often dried their socks over the mantlepiece. Does that make sense?”

“Uh huh Daddy.”

“Well… he had a little more money than some, and decided to give… hmm… You know how people give presents for birthdays?”

“Yuh huh.”

“Well Nicholas decided to give presents for God’s birthday. It might not have been much. Maybe a coin, that he’d hide in a sock over the mantlepiece… maybe a bit of coal, which actually wasn’t a bad thing. They burned coal in the fireplace, so it was actually good… especially if you were poor. Do you understand?”

“Yep!” she said with a smile that matched her understanding.

“So other people saw how nice a thing it was to give gifts on God’s birthday… and started copying what Nicholas did, which is how giving presents on Christmas started. Nicholas was so good that they called him Saint Nicholas. But they speak many languages in the world… and he was called by many names. Saint Nicholas. Santa. Santa Claus. Sinter Class. Kris Kringle. Even Pere Noel, like your name… though there are many more too.

‘So is there a big fat guy in a big red suit with flying reindeer? No. There isn’t. But there IS a Santa Claus. Mommies and Daddies give most of the gifts… but we all give gifts to each other on Christmas. We’re ALL Santa Claus,” I finished with a smile for her wide-eyed face. “Does that make sense?”

“Oh Daddy,” she said as her arms rocketed out of her covers to hug me close.

Without having to say it, we both missed Mommy, my Carol, more than ever.

When we finally pulled apart and I tucked Noel back in, I felt guilty enough to ask, “Does that bother you to know about Santa like that Sweets?”
“No Daddy,” she said as if I was the one who wasn’t getting it.

“I’m glad. Can you do me a favor though?”

“Uh huh.”

“Not everybody is ready to hear about Santa so young. Their Mommies and Daddies will tell their children when they feel the time is right. So I’m going to ask you to be in on the secret for a while… at least until your friends’ parents tell them. Okay?”

She nodded with a smile… as if being the keeper of the secret was super special. There was another goodnight… and another, even happier, hug.

I got up again and headed back towards the light switch. The lights went out just before I heard Noel’s soft, “Wait.”
I turned in her doorway.

“Goodnight Santa,” she said with a conspiratory smile… which only grew when I smiled back with my own, “Goodnight Santa,” before blowing a last kiss and leaving.

I sat staring at our tree for forty minutes before putting gifts under it. I then called “Uncle Billy,” who wasn’t really an uncle but had been my best friend since third grade. Somehow, I kept my tears from being heard as I recounted the night.

“That’s actually a great way of telling the Santa thing,” he said. “If I ever get married and have kids, I’ll have to remember it. Where’d you hear it?”

“Nowhere. I just kind of winged-it up on the fly Bill. I was so scared of effin’ up that it just came out.”

“Well that was good stuff Chris. Say. You need help putting anything together this year?”

“No,” I laughed. “I’m good. You still coming around 1:00?”

“What do YOU think? I wouldn’t miss her birthday for anything. You know that.”

“I know. It’s what I told her already too. She really loves you Man.”

“Well I love her back. Alright then. See you tomorrow?”

“Yeah. Tomorrow. Merry Christmas Bill.”

“Merry Christmas Chris. Bye.”

The silence got under my skin. What Bill didn’t ask, couldn’t ask, bounced around in my mind as I went back to my staring contest with the lights on the tree.

How was Noel doing without Carol this Christmas? How was I doing?

I got up; unplugged the tree; and headed to bed… our marriage bed that was going to feel even emptier the night before Christmas and our daughter’s birthday.

I looked at my reflection as I brushed my teeth. The light caught a lone whisker. Carol and I had married young. Noel had blessed us the following year. At twenty-five, I shaved… but infrequently. I decided that the lone noticeable whisker had to go. Tomorrow was going to be a special day for Noel.

With no shaving cream, I squeezed a dollop of Carol’s conditioner, which she used to use when she shaved her legs.

My whisker disappeared with some other budding fuzz, but I still had conditioner in my hand. Standing there in my boxers and a tee, I touched my hand to a thigh for no reason on this earth. I wiped it off with my razor’s edge for the same non-reason.

As a child, and then a teen, there had been a period when I experimented with my mother’s clothes in the hamper at night. I remembered enjoying it enough to keep at it an off-and-on thing for many years… but the urge to continue wasn’t strong enough to do anything about it after Carol.

It wasn’t intentional. There was no rush or thrill. I had never shaved anything but my face… and even that I had done very infrequently. But planned or not, another dollop of conditioner soon primed more of my poor leg hairs for the blade.

At some point, my boxers crumpled to the floor to allow my crotch to become hairless too. The hair on my arms was light, and therefore safe, but my pitifully few chest hairs and pits soon became as smooth as my legs.

A shower rinsed me off with the strange feel of my smoothness making the water sheet off of my skin in a new way.

I poured a peach colored satin nightgown over me before going to bed. Sleep came quickly, and deeply, but not for long.

The words that Noel wanted “a new Mommy” bounced in my dreams until they woke me at the ridiculous hour of five.

After going awkwardly to the bathroom, I looked at my silhouette in the mirror in the dim nightlight. A flash of Carol came into my mind. It was enough to make sleep impossible.

Back in the bathroom; I stared, wide-eyed, at myself. I hadn’t taken care of myself since Carol passed. I focused my life on Noel and had wasted away enough that her nightgown fit me a little too well. I had missed enough haircuts where my unbound mop of hair looked almost… right. The smooth legs made me think about Noel’s “new Mommy” words with a suddenly different perspective.

I never got rid of her things. I easily remembered how to ‘tuck’ into one of my favorite stretch-satin red panties with the lacy white trim. Her nightgown was soon replaced by a matching bra, which I felt only slightly guilty about filling with her expensive silicon breast prosthetics from after the double mastectomy. I even used the adhesive.

The flawless makeup in bright holiday reds and alluring eyes went with the bright polish that I brushed on the nail-tips that I had found in her drawer and glued on. I sprayed her scent on me too; the memory of which nearly brought me to tears.

I dug into the back of Carol’s side of the closet. The unworn Mrs. Santa Claus outfit had never graced her lithe body. We had gotten it shortly after last Christmas. Wearing it for this one had been an optimistic goal. She would have looked incredible in it.

Glittery nude pantyhose looked so amazingly feminine stretched between the flared pouf of petticoats holding out the dress’ miniskirted hem and the four-inch red pumps that fit me almost too well. The long-sleeved velvet dress looked so wonderfully cliché with its poufy trim at the cuffs and big-buttoned front. The scooped neck, with the same trim, was tasteful enough to not give away Carol’s prosthetics too.

My hair hadn’t been trimmed in a woman’s style, but I remembered enough old tricks to coax a very full and feminine mane into being with irons, brushes, little snips in front… and nearly the last of Carol’s leftover spray.

I stared at my face a good twenty minutes before starting on makeup. I never meant for the tweezers to do more than clean up some stragglers. I next rationalized that taking a little more from underneath wouldn’t really be noticeable. I could take yet more little hairs and keep things neutral… then maybe a few more if I could from passing through the other side of it.

When neutral became pretty though, it became pointless to keep pretending. My slight hands actually trembled when I finally lowered the tweezers. I could hear my pulse in my breath as I stared incredulously at the ultra-feminine wisps that my brows had become… brows that had no business being on my face.

I knew the earrings that Carol wanted to wear with that outfit. I had picked them out for her. Tiny wrapped Christmas presents dangled from the pearl studs, which soon adorned my stinging lobes.

I wasn’t Carol. I might have shared more than her scent, but I wasn’t her. I definitely was me, Chris, either. I had never taken my childhood dressing up to those extremes… and the result confused me. I looked wonderful… beautiful… stunning even, which I hadn’t planned on or could have been prepared myself for. I might have been a few inches taller than Carol, but everything fit perfectly (even if the hem might have been slightly higher).

There was no punchline. There was no plan. I hadn’t dressed for any sexual pleasure… or any reason at all.

“Noel wanted a new Mommy,” those glossy red lips whispered back to me from the mirror.

With a turn, I walked on the balls of my feet so that those heels wouldn’t touch the hardwood floor to wake her. Noel would be up early for presents. There was time, but I was up. Coffee seemed like something to start. Maybe a piece of toast with a smear of jam before checking to see if my lips needed fixing. I didn’t question if being dressed like that would be good or not when Noel saw me. I had no thoughts of rushing into the bathroom to undo everything.

The scent of coffee started to escape from the maker before it finished brewing. I hadn’t even started the toast when I head a soft sigh behind me.

“Daddy?”

I turned, thinking of the little Cindy Lou Who voice from the classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

“Do you want me to be Daddy today?”

“You look more like a Mommy,” she smiled brightly, which shook off the last of her sleep.

“Then is THAT what you want me to be today Noel?”

“Uh huh.”

Then before I could say anything in response, Noel launched herself at me and wrapped around my long stockinged legs; pressing my petticoated skirt with her face as she hugged me tightly.

“There really IS a Santa,” she whispered with happy tears, which I shared too; thankful that my makeup was waterproof.

When we untangled our arms and she finally pulled back; she asked, “Can I really call you Mommy today?”

“If that is what you’d like Sweets.”

Her face crinkled a moment before she said, “Sweets is a Daddy-word. Sweetie is better. So is Honey and Princess and Darling and… uh… what did Mommy used to…?”

“Lovie,” I whispered to the broadest smile I had seen in too long a time. “Would you like to see what Santa brought you… Lovie?”
“You mean there’s MORE,” she squealed before running to the tree in the family room.

“Wait,” I called out to her retreating little form in the long flannel nightgown and fuzzy princess slippers. “Let me get my camera before you start opening presents!”

“Okay Mommy,” she said in a way that made me grateful I was still in the kitchen.

I called out, “Do you want hot cocoa before or after presents Lovie?”

“Ooooh… I can be like you when you have coffee? …Mommy?”

“You can be like me,” I called out from the other room.

“Okay!”

Her little footfalls bounded through the house and back to her room, which confused me. I took the opportunity to start her cocoa and then pour my coffee. Instead of black, I took it with milk and sugar, like Carol liked it.

It had been years since I had dressed, but little things, like positioning my legs modestly or watching my posture, came back almost too easily. The little voice-tricks I used to play around with to sound feminine did too. If I enjoyed the strangely unplanned immersion, Noel’s face almost started hurting from her perpetually broad smile.

“My tummy feels sore from laughing so much Mommy,” she said more than once.

The presents, the happiness, the love… were all too wonderful to let end. Lunch, a shared grill cheese sandwich and small glass of chocolate-milk with two straws, was just too perfect for both of us.

Her face momentarily fell as I started clearing our lunch.

“What’s wrong Lovie? Is something the matter Noel?”

“No Mommy. Not really. Well… uhh…”

“Yes? Go on?”

“This has been the very best Christmas EVER Mommy,” she said as she ran to me and wrapped around my legs once again.

“Then…?”

“I don’t want it to end,” she said through her tears and into my outfit. I noticed that a particular sniffle had lingered as if Noel might be savoring her Mommy’s scent. “I… I… Can we keep Christmas going Mommy? I know it’s after lunch and it’s time for…”

“Oh LOVIE,” I soothed while stroking her hair with my dainty long-nailed hands. “Of course. It can be Christmas AND your birthday… like it really is anyway. Would you like that Noel?”

“More than ANYTHING,” she beamed up at me before giving my legs one last big hug.

We both turned to the sound of the bell. The day couldn’t have flown by that quickly. Bill couldn’t have been there already. But the way Noel screeched, “UNCLE BILLY! UNCLE BILLY!” as she bolted towards the door told me otherwise.

For the first time since removing that solitary whisker; I doubted what I was doing as I click-click-clicked in my heels to the door too.
The bell rang again with ‘Uncle Billy’ teasing through the door, “I guess nobody’s home. Oh well.”

“No! No! Don’t go Uncle Billy! We’re right here! Mommy! Open the door for him before he leaves! Oh PLEASE Mommy! Pretty Please?!”
“Oh… If you think I should…”

“YAY!!! We’re coming Uncle Billy. Don’t go!”

I noticed my nails and the cuff of my velvety red sleeve as I took hold of the doorknob. I watched as if someone else’ delicate hand turned that knob and pulled open the door. I felt the feathery lashes as I nervously blinked at the sight of Bill’s face looking me over with a peculiar nonchalance while Noel took a turn wrapping her arms around HIS legs in a hug.

“Oh Uncle Billy! I’m SO happy you made it… and didn’t think that we weren’t home!”

His eyes continued to rove over every inch of me. His voice seemed utterly unfazed as he responded to Noel.

“I was just having fun with you Noel. You know I wouldn’t miss today for the WORLD. Happy Birthday!” he exclaimed as a present that he had been holding behind his back materialized from thin air.

Noel squeezed him once more before taking the package and almost bouncing in her excitement towards the tree.
“Hey!” he called after her. “That’s NOT a Christmas present!”

“I know,” she called back as we heard the paper ripping and Bill closed the door behind him. “But THIS time… the after-lunch-time is my birthday AND Christmas together. Right Mommy? OOOOOH! I LOVE IT!”

“Mommy?” Bill whispered with a slight smile at the corners of his mouth.

“For today Bill,” I smiled back a little less nervously than I felt.

His smile, in turn, grew as he nodded his head. Bill started walking past me towards the tree in the other room as he called out, “You really like it then?!”

“It’s WONDERFUL! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! You just HAVE to see what Uncle Billy brought me!”

As he reached my side though, Bill’s hand found mine, which he led me by toward Noel. I had held Noel’s hand many times since Carol died, but I suddenly realized that I had missed even such a simple intimacy since then.

My small dainty hand felt right being held in Bill’s as he drew me along. He gave it a gently squeeze before dropping my hand when we stood by Noel, who was holding a dress to herself that perfectly matched mine.

“We can look the same Mommy! Isn’t it WONDERFUL?!”

Not waiting for an answer, she dropped it to rush into Uncle Billy’s legs for another smothering hug as she kept repeating to him, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you Uncle Billy!”

Bill laughed good-naturedly. Without letting go, Noel turned to me and asked, “Can I put it on and look just like you?”

“Of course Lovie,” I smiled at her through a mist in my eyes.

Bill stopped her running off with a, “But wait! Don’t you want to see what your Christmas present is too?”

“There’s MORE?!”

Without answering her, Bill produced a wrapped rectangular box from thin air too.

“Merry Christmas Noel,” he said softly as he squeezed with his arms that were no longer hiding presents.

The paper came off in a blink. Noel opened the box just as quickly to reveal two sparkling red flat mary-janes to go with her dress.

There was a repeat of squeals and hugs and thank yous until Noel simply ran off with her gifts to her room… mumbling something about her white tights being perfect to go with them.

“So,” Bill whispered to me. “Mommy?”

“It’s a long story Bill.”

“I think it might sound better calling me Billy?”

I paused and almost laughed before replying, “Not ‘Uncle’ Billy?”

“No. Billy is fine. I just think it would sound a little more natural with you looking and sounding like that. You’ll have to tell that long story sometime but, before she comes back, what should I call YOU? You’re definitely not MY Mommy,” he chuckled.

“Chris still works,” I offered.

Bill, Billy to me at the moment, shook he head with a smile and said, “Chrissy works better.”

I looked at him like he was crazy but eventually ended up shrugging before my curiosity forced me to focus on, “Where did you GET those things? I mean, how did you even KNOW Bill..ly?”

“Remember the day at the mall when Carol got that very pretty outfit you’re wearing… Chrissy?”

“When you bumped into us?”

Bill nodded and said, “Carol wanted to surprise you with Noel and her wearing matching outfits this Christmas. While you dove off to the side to get her earrings or something, which look so cute on you I might add, Carol forced money into my hands and wrote a note with a lip-liner-pencil on a store-receipt. The receipt for the dress.”

“But how did…?”

“Carol said that the people at the store would remember you all. Her note had Noel’s dress and shoe-sizes, which the store people convinced me to get a little bigger for her to grow into.”

Bill stopped his story when Noel rounded into the room. Bill and I both wore smiles that almost split our faces as we kept ourselves from laughing. She looked absolutely adorable in the dress, shoes, and white tights… but the stab of red lipstick to match mine was helplessly smeared… no matter how proud she looked of her job applying it.

“Oh Lovie,” I said crouching on my heels with my knees together and holding her little shoulders in my hands. “You look absolutely WONDERFUL. Would you like me to help you with your makeup? Maybe even put on some nail polish? Just this once?”

“REALLY Mommy?!”

“Really Noel.” Then turning to ‘Billy’ I said, “Would you mind if us girls made ourselves look pretty for you Billy?”

“Please,” he said kindly.

I don’t know why, but it felt so wonderful wiping Noel’s face clean and starting to do her lips in the same shade as my own. I don’t know who enjoyed me wanding on a touch of mascara onto her already long lashes more or spraying just a hint of the same perfume as I wore… Carol’s perfume.

I don’t know who was more nervous as I led her towards the long mirror on the back of the door of my bedroom.

We truly looked like mother-and-daughter side by side. I actually felt more like we looked too.

“I look just like you Mommy,” she proudly smiled at our reflections.

“You look beautiful Lovie,” was all I managed to whisper back.

“Why are you crying Mommy? Are you sad? Do you not want to play anymore?”

I shook my head before I crouched and gently kissed Noel’s forehead to buy me some time before I could speak.

“I’m not crying because I’m sad. Well. That’s not entirely true. I’m a little sad that your real Mommy can’t be here to see how pretty you are in that dress.”

“But you ARE my real Mommy,” she said with a crinkle across her nose that looked adorable. “You’re my Daddy AND my Mommy today… Just like its my Birthday and Christmas together this year.”

“Hahaha! I guess you’re right,” I replied while carefully wiping a tear with the heel of my hand and standing up. “Let’s go show Uncle Billy how pretty his girls look in the other room.”

“You don’t have to go anywhere,” he said smiling in the doorway with his eyes classy and his nose making a tiny sniffle. “You two look absolutely beautiful right where you are.”

“Do you really think so Uncle Billy?”

“I know so. Now. Since my ladies are dress so nicely, I think your outfits would be perfect at Service if you two would honor me by joining me.”
“I really don’t…,” I started to say before Noel cut in.

“I haven’t been to service since… my OTHER Mommy died. Would you really take us Uncle Billy? I really would like to talk to her there.”
He looked at me as if I were caught, which I was. I might have been terrified of the idea of being seen out as I was dressed… but I was more focused on being there for Noel.

“Of course we’ll join you Billy. That was so sweet of you to offer. Do we have time? I didn’t even know that they had a late service on Christmas.”

“There’s one at 3:00 today, so we have plenty of time.”

“OH!” Noel bounced. “Do we have some time for more presents then?!”

“I don’t think that there are any more presents Lovie,” I said softly.

“Not for ME,” she said as if I was being silly. “Presents for you and Uncle Billy!”

“You got us presents Noel?”

“Uh hmmm,” she smiled before bouncing back towards the tree with us following behind.

There were enough scraps of paper for Noel to grab and crinkle bits of random things into those scraps to give to us. My presents included a bit of string, a piece of wadded wrapper presented in another piece of wrapping paper, a spoon from the kitchen, and a bit of fuzz from I don’t know where. Robert oohed and ahhhed and fussed over equally impromptu gifts before Noel finally grabbed her now empty stocking hanging back on a window ledge.

“Okay,” she beamed as she pretended to take two things out of the stocking, which she let fall to her adorable little feet. Two tiny fits turned and opened, palms up… one towards Billy and one towards me.

She presented her empty palms with the broadest smile and twinkling eyes… as if giving us each the best gifts that anyone could ever give anyone… ever.

“What is it?” Billy asked in wonder for her benefit before I could.

“It’s for both of you,” she said proudly as she almost poked her hands closer for us.

I smiled, “Yes Noel, but what is it that you got us?”

“Love,” she said to me and to Billy before pressing her hands into ours and wrapping us all in a hug that, thankfully, hid my and Billy’s silent sobs.

“That was the best present anyone has ever given me,” I whispered into her untamable hair. “I love you Noel.”

“I love you too Mommy. And I love you too Daddy,” she said to Billy as if it were a slip of the tongue.

“I love you back too squirt,” he said back with a smile without correcting her. Then to both of us he said, “Maybe you two might want to freshen up before we leave… and grab a purse Chrissy. We have time, but it might be nice to hear the pretty Carols before Service actually starts.”

Noel didn’t answer. Her excited bounce towards her room, where I heard the drawer for her brush slide open, was answer enough.

“Daddy?” I kindly teased to Billy.

Bill returned my smile and stepped closer as he presented his upturned palm to me between us.

“What are you doing Billy?”

“It’s love,” he said simply as he put his palm on the side of my face and moved in closer to kiss me. “Merry Christmas Chrissy,” he added as his lips briefly touched mine.

I felt my eyes getting glassy as I wondered just what was happening… or why so many confusing things felt so wonderful when I replied, “Merry Christmas Billy,” and touched my lips to his in return.

Noel’s footsteps were the only reason either of us broke that breath-stealing kiss.

“I… uhh… Let me find a purse,” I half-mumbled as I went to our bedroom for one of Carol’s that I imagined would work perfectly.

Scrambling around the bedroom, I grabbed the lipstick for touchups and my keys. Looking into the otherwise empty pocked-book before dropping those things in, I saw the emptiness from a new perspective.

Some might see emptiness, but I knew better. Noel and Billy weren’t there with me for the moment, but the three of us knew better.
I smiled and thought of the spirit of Christmas and my little Noel; who, out of nothing, found love for all of us.



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